White Spot serves up top chefs

With an executive chef dedicated to developing innovative menu items, White Spot has created two unique programs to ensure their chefs are up to the challenge.

"We're building a really critical mass of Red Seal chefs right now," said James Kennedy. "It's raising the bar in our kitchens. As our brand is growing and changing and evolving we found we really need to have so many more skilled chefs in our kitchens." Kennedy, the chef de cuisine, said the restaurant chain launched a pilot in-house apprenticeship program last September to complement its Red Seal skills-upgrading program.

"It builds upon a training culture, that's really what we wanted to achieve. We want to build into our kitchens more of a foody sense so that more and more of our cooks and chefs are foodies and are just interested and love food," he said.

Through the pilot program, White Spot kitchen employees take their technical-skills training in-house every two weeks through Kennedy, the corporate training chef, instead of doing a traditional month-release training program. This way, they are able to continue working while getting practical lessons from the restaurant's Red Seal chefs.

Through the Red Seal challenge program, experienced senior staff, who have over 830 practical hours in the kitchen, are given training to update their skills before writing a Red Seal theory exam.

"This is something that is unique -- no one else is offering it," said Denise Buchanan, vice-president of human resources. "This is enhancing the professionalism of our people and giving a lot of different career options for employees. We have a long history of doing things that are quite different." White Spot already employs 38 Red Seal certified chefs who it regularly features in its television advertisements promoting its commitment to the certification program.

Another 22 chefs have finished their skills upgrading and are currently prepping to write their Red Seal test while a new batch of 21 are beginning the program. In the apprenticeship program, there are currently 13 employees in Level 1 training and 12 in Level 2.

The apprenticeships are only offered based on a restaurant manager's recommendation, and employees are expected to consult with their Red Seal chefs to brush up on skill sets that aren't covered in the training program.

"We're trying to take the best of technical-skills training and adapting to what we would think would work," said Buchanan, adding that White Spot also offers management the ability to earn college credits through another workshop program.

"This is unique to our company, certainly to our industry. We've got both the academic option and the trades option." Kennedy said the company's training business model planned to have at least one Red Seal certified chef in each restaurant by 2010.

The popularity of the program among employees, and unofficial interest and buzz within the industry, has increased that number to two.

"Without a Red Seal chef, we can't put an indentured apprentice in the restaurants," said Kennedy. "We're building a higher-quality kitchen . . . Our menus are getting more complicated with our celebrity chefs and we have to be able to execute them." kmercer@theprovince.com



CAPTION: Chef de Cuisine James Kennedy (centre) trains aspiring chefs in White Spot's Red Seal challenge. It's creating better chefs and results are showing, he says



Winner Profile


Name: White Spot.

Category: Innovation.

Location: B.C. and Alberta.

Award-winning initiative: In-house apprenticeship program and Red Seal skills-upgrading program.

Number of in-house apprentices: 25.

Number of employees in the Red Seal challenge: 22 writing exam, 21 beginning skills upgrading.

Advantages of the Red Seal challenge: "This is enhancing the professionalism of our people and giving a lot of different career options for employees."

-- Human-resources

VP Denise Buchanan

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